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Disclaimer: the characters and setting of Middle-earth are the creations of J.R.R. Tolkien and belong to his estate. I do not have permission to use them, and am making no profit from this story. It was written for enjoyment only.
Thanks to Lisette for betaing this chapter.
To See A World by Nightwing
Chapter Twelve: Songs in the Key of Life
As he carefully reached overhead and felt for the next branch, it was once more driven home to Legolas just how much he had always depended on his eyes. In earlier days he would have swept to the very top of the massive tree in a few brief seconds. He had tried to climb quickly this time as well, trembling in his haste and going much more rapidly than was safe, only to painfully smack his head into a branch above him and falter as he lost his balance for an instant. With a sigh he decreased his pace and began to move with more caution. If I cannot even walk a straight line on the ground, I had better slow down here. It would not do to fall. He would undoubtedly land right on top of Aragorn, who he knew stood anxiously beneath him and would continue to do so until he had settled himself.
His fingers met the next branch and he paused a moment, gauging its size and leaning against it to test its security. It held, and he pulled himself up another few feet and swung his legs over. Extending his right hand to the side he felt for the trunk again. He had taken care to stay close to it, where the branches were thickest and would be sure to support him. Before, he would have run along their full length, feeling them bend under his weight as they thinned, and then he would launch himself onto the next branch or perhaps directly into the air, the bent limbs serving as something of a catapult as they propelled him through the forests he loved. He had exulted in that freedom.
As it was, he raised his head and reached again. Another good branch, and he went higher. The wind began to come to him more clearly, and he realized that he had climbed high enough to pass many of the smaller trees and emerge from their sheltering arms. He did not know how high he had come, but judging from the age and strength of the great tree, he was very high indeed. He investigated the next branch. It was sturdy enough, but a small voice of caution stopped him here. This was far enough.
Drawing himself up until he was standing, he wrapped his arms around a higher limb and rested his chest against it as he faced the northern breeze. Breathing deeply, he drew in all he could of the sharp air. The whisper of the wind through the bare branches was soothing, but it was also a lonely sound, rattling as it did through the dead leaves and bringing with it promises of chill mists and the silence of winter. A heaviness of spirit pressed on the elf, and he turned to rest his hand on the bole of the tree and crouch to seat himself, settling his back against the great trunk. He shifted around a bit, making sure he was both comfortable and secure, and drew his legs up to wrap his arms around them.
Far below, he heard the faint sounds of the man moving away, no doubt relieved that Legolas had finished his climb. But despite his obvious concern, Aragorn had remained silent as the elf moved steadily up the tree, saying nothing to him after his first words, spoken as Legolas had begun his ascent. "Think not of the passage of time or of work to be done, Legolas. Come down only when you are ready." Legolas heard the cottage door close softly, and he found himself alone.
He knew should he call Aragorn's name the ranger would be standing under the tree again immediately. But he also knew that Aragorn understood why he had been left behind. Legolas needed to be alone, with no one but the trees to hear any other sounds that he might make. He needed to be alone, and Aragorn would not return until he was asked to do so.
And now that I am here, what do I do with myself? Wait for the great realization? Will the sky and the stars tell me why I cannot see? The elf shook his head, irritated by his usual tiresome thoughts. No. They will not. I am blind because I was sickened by poison. Random misfortune. A swift dart in the night, the fleeing of a mere handful of seconds, and my world changes forever. There is no great reason, no purpose and no destiny. My promises are broken.
It was disgracefully indulgent to engage in such lingering self-pity. Had he not shed enough tears during those silent days spent sitting before the fire? Had he not walked this painful path long enough? The elf balled his hands into fists as his breath caught in his throat. Stop this! But he could not. And he recalled words someone, perhaps Lord Elrond, had said to him long ago. "Pain cannot be skirted. When it comes to you, take the direct path and walk. Walk through it until you reach the other side."
The grief was not ended. It ran through him as before, deep and fresh and damaging. Alone, held in the protective embrace of the old tree, the depths of Legolas' despair rose in a great rush and broke through the fragile dam he had struggled to build. Even with Aragorn he had held a part of himself back, trying to put on a brave front, but no more. To the great tree he released his anguish, losing himself in it completely. And the oak, strong and patient, listened in silence, cradling the heartbroken elf as a mother cradles her weeping child.
Thoughts crowded in too quickly. Wearied by lack of sleep and lingering sickness, he was pummeled by conflicting emotions and the resurfacing of memories long held in check. They swept in now, and he let them have their way at last as he turned his body, clinging to the ancient oak and pressing his forehead against the bark. So much had happened. The dead man, the orc sword… so much… and he fell under a wall of confusion, unable at first to make rational sense of what came to his mind.
He had been deeply disturbed by the discovery of the murdered man. And then had come the mysterious warning that the citizens of Carbryddin would possibly try to harm him and the ranger should they attempt to approach the city. They would stay away, of course, but Legolas felt vulnerable, and cold shadows seemed to clutch at him whenever he thought of the city that lay in the valley below. If trouble came, neither fight nor flight would be easy for him, even with Aragorn at his side.
His blindness continued to terrify him. It wrapped him in layers so heavy that at times he could draw no air, and he choked on the closeness of the unending dark. He had not yet been able to master his irrational fear that because he could see nothing, there was nothing of substance around him. He would reach and reach, extending his hands and trying without success to throw the shroud from his eyes. During the day he was able to distract himself by having conversations with Aragorn and working on small tasks that needed doing around the cottage, but the nights were a torment. He barely slept, and the better part of the quiet hours was spent hugging the cat and clinging to the sound of Aragorn's breath. He could find no other comfort, and dreaded being alone with his ragged thoughts, when fears for his future rose from the darkness and mocked him. He did not fear the coming winter, though he held no illusions that it would be difficult. He feared the thaw and the coming of spring, when the flowers would open into bright blossoms that he could not see and Aragorn would lead him over the mountains toward home. They would go to Rivendell and seek the assistance of Lord Elrond, but before he could come to that place of refuge there was Mirkwood to be faced. There was his father. How much less perfect will I be in his eyes now?
His father and lord would not reject him. He knew this. But the thought of living out his darkened days in the coldness of Thranduil's empty home was a possibility he could not bring himself to dwell on. For four years he had held to the hope that one day he would rise in the favor of the woodland king once more. For four years he had held to the hope that he would find the murderers of his mother. That hope had been snatched from him, as had the plans he had made with Aragorn to stand with him against the great enemy who was slowly coming to power in the east. His life had become directionless, and without the familiar anchor of his goals and plans he faltered, unable to determine which way to turn.
Sighing, the weary elf pulled his face away from the tree and wiped his eyes. He was unable to understand why, after his long search for answers to his mother's death, did the first hint come to him directly on the heels of his blindness. It was a cruel joke. The sword that Aragorn had carried with him that terrible night was certainly akin to the one that had killed the queen. And, had he his sight, he would be on the trail of the orcs this very moment. He would hunt them without ceasing until he found them, and then they would meet justice. They would know the wrath of a son who had lived four years with a torn heart that wept blood with each painful beat.
He had been stunned to discover that the orcs had come from the Northlands and had apparently traveled no small distance to commit their crime. They had crept unnoticed into the heart of Mirkwood, committed the most heinous of acts and had covered their tracks well afterward. These things pointed to a certain organization on their part which was usually lacking, and that meant that they probably had a leader. It had been no random skirmish resulting from a mob of orcs blundering into the elf party. The action had been planned, and planned well.
Legolas was not so foolish as to think that killing a group of orcs would return his mother to him. And he was not so driven by rage that he sought simply to slake his hands in the black blood of the foul beasts, to kill until he could kill no more. His mind was not so dark. Ever he had been a lover of peace and still thoughts. But he had been unable, despite the kind words of both Aragorn and Lord Elrond, to forgive himself for not being there to protect his mother on that day. And he had been unable to stop trying to find answers, driving himself on long and ultimately fruitless searches in the areas surrounding his homeland. Aragorn had accompanied him on several of his hunts, and his presence was always a strong comfort to the young elf who never stopped searching, convinced as he was that there was no other way to regain his father's love.
He slumped, exhausted, against the great oak, laying his cheek against the rough comfort of the bark. His search was ended. He did not have his sight. Robbed of the chance to find answers at last, the trail grew cold as he lingered in the dark.
* * * *
Night sounds came to him, and he realized with a start that he had fallen asleep. For a moment he forgot his blindness, as he always did upon waking, and tried to make out his surroundings with his eyes. But everything remained dark, and in a moment he remembered why. His fingers flew to the tree, feeling the powerful limbs around him. The press of strong wood was against his body, the branch under him broad and steady. Puzzled, he did not recall drifting off, but he had been exhausted after allowing his pain to tear through him and break open his defenses. He felt better now. His mind had calmed, and as he drew his cloak around his shoulders he settled back and put his attention on the night.
It felt good to be out here. He had always loved the noises of the late hours, and they came to him now in all their richness and diversity, soothing his nerves and his ever-aching head, easing the claustrophobic fear the blindness still used to torment him. All around, the soft breezes tickled his face and gently swept his hair from his shoulders, smelling of pine and mountain water. The vast stretch of forest was busy with night doings as tiny creatures crept and skittered about below him. The soft whir of wings told of the quiet passing of an owl, and he smiled briefly as the movements of the little animals ceased and they crouched, immobile, until that silent shadow passed by. To his right the stream burbled over rocks, and the elf shut his seeking eyes, opening himself to the songs of Arda.
The pines whispered of peace and rest. His oak, of strength and perseverance. It had endured much in its long, long life. Low and powerful, deeply connected to both earth and sky, its voice thrummed softly, telling of ancient days that he had never known. Sitting quietly, he gratefully accepted what the tree offered. Pressing his body even more closely against the massive bole, he drew strength as he raised his face and opened his eyes, seeking the sky.
A shaft of sorrow struck him as he searched. If anything was to come to his eyes, he thought it would be the light of the stars. But he had been wise enough not to cling too fiercely to that wish, and after a few moments of feeling this new pain he was able to let it pass through him and vanish on the slow controlled wave of his breath. He closed his eyes and listened again, and hope kindled as he realized he was not sundered from the tiny fires that burned and shimmered far above him. Solace came to his hurting heart, and he sighed deeply. There was still music in the dark, and he found himself adding his own voice to the melody that floated around him and bore him away from his sadness.
* ** *
The sun started to rise, and the birds joined the elf as he continued singing into the darkness that for him did not change with the arrival of the new day. And he did not cease his song when he heard Aragorn emerge from the house and make his way to the little barn to tend the horse. The man started his morning chores quietly, and did not approach the elf perched in the upper branches of the great oak tree.
Legolas sang on, grateful for the friend who always seemed to know when was the right time to speak and when silence was best. He smiled to himself as he drew one long leg up and rested his hands on his knee while letting the other dangle from the oak limb, having no doubt that though he had continued to respect the elf's need for time to himself, the ranger had paused to take a good hard look at him with his serious grey eyes before turning away and walking into the barn.
Were he to search Middle-earth end to end, Legolas believed he would never find a better friend. And never had that fact been more strongly demonstrated than in the springtime after the elf-queen had died. Aragorn had come back, just as he had said he would. Though no words had been spoken as to exact date and the ranger had sent no message of a rendezvous time, the young elf had sensed when his friend had returned to the forests of Mirkwood and had made his way to their usual camping spot one morning in late April. There he had found the man crouched over a bundle, sorting through a collection of tiny flower seedlings that he had brought with him from Imladris for the queen's garden, and he had turned when he heard Legolas' soft footfalls behind him. "I thought these might please her," was all Aragorn had said.
Aragorn had not been banned from Mirkwood, though his welcome was even less warm than it had been in the past. He was ignored, and was given no audience with Thranduil that year, which must have saddened him. It grieved Legolas that the friendship had garnered more animosity when he had hope that the opposite would come, but he continued as before, with head held high as he walked with his friend through the vast halls of his father's palace, and he allowed no harsh words of condemnation to be spoken to or about Aragorn by anyone.
King Thranduil had locked both the garden gate and the palace door that led into it. Legolas had been forced to do a fair amount of searching, without luck, for the keys. In the end, he and Aragorn had simply climbed the fifteen-foot high wall of stone to gain access. Side by side they had worked in silence, joined by no other as they weeded and raked aside the debris from the previous autumn's decay that no one had had the heart to take on so shortly after the tragedy. They cleared the way for the new shoots of the perennials that had just begun to show themselves and planted the seedlings with care. And after, when the garden was neatly groomed once more and the queen's chairs had been set in place, they had gone out for a month to search for the murderous orcs.
Their hunt had turned up nothing new. Alone, Legolas had combed every inch of Mirkwood's borders, even silently skirting around the dark tower in the south that clawed its way into the sky and cast a cold shadow that froze the blood of any who ventured near it, and Aragorn had silently followed him there when the elf had decided to go back again. The ranger brought his own tremendous tracking skills to add to Legolas', but still they made no significant discoveries. Aragorn had worried about his elf friend on the trip. Legolas could see concern in the man's face and the grey eyes followed him often. Legolas ate little and slept even less, and he had stalked through the endless dark forest with a simmering anger that the man could not help but notice, but Aragorn had said nothing. Little healing, and no resolution, had taken place during the handful of months since the queen's murder.
They had returned to the palace on a sunny afternoon at the end of May, and went directly to the garden to see what the passing month had wrought. The gate was still locked, and Legolas had climbed the wall and poked his head over the top to take a look. More beautiful than ever, sprinkled with pink, violet and yellow blossoms and coated with the rich scent of honeysuckle, it had become a refuge for the broken-hearted. There his father sat, alone, taking his tea in stiff-backed silence.
Legolas had bowed his head and dropped back to the earth without a sound. The next day he had seen Aragorn off on his return journey to Rivendell, and then he had packed his gear and gone out, alone once more, and resumed his search. And he did not return for almost a year, seeing neither his family nor his friend during that long and lonely stretch of time. And when he had finally did come home again, Aragorn had been camped in that same spot, waiting for him, and soon they had resumed their old habits of wandering Middle-earth and exploring new places. They had gone to Rivendell, where Legolas had his first talk with Elrond since the death of his mother, and in the elf-lord and his three children he found a sympathetic and supportive source of quiet strength and friendship.
When he was home, he aided his father and brothers in the running of the elven realm, becoming particularly adept at negotiations with the men of Lake-town. And when he was away, though he eventually stopped driving himself at the relentless pace he had adopted before and began taking excursions with Aragorn for pleasure once more, he never stopped searching.
The sun had risen high over his head now, and Legolas wondered at the passage of time that he had not noticed. He felt the warm rays bathing his upturned face despite the chill of near winter. Stopping his song, he listened for Aragorn but did not hear him. He had gone back inside the house at some point. Scooting carefully along the length of the branch, the elf fully stretched out on his back and folded his hands across his chest. With the bubbling sound of the stream in his ears and the birds chattering around him, he fell asleep once more.
* * * *
The smell of wood smoke penetrated his nostrils, and he shook his head slightly as he drifted again toward the waking world. Furrowing his brow, he listened and breathed. It was early evening only, not yet deep night, and he sat up, stretching his arms over his head and arching his back, breathing deeply as he worked out the kinks in his spine. He sang for a bit, a greeting for the moon as it rose in the dark sky, and his heart welled with gladness at the melody it gave back to him.
Another smell made him turn his head toward the cottage. Meat was being roasted, and bread was being warmed over the fire. And for the first time in more days than he was able to remember, the juices churned in his belly. He regarded the sensation with astonishment. I am hungry. Aragorn cooks, and I am hungry!
Taking hold of the branch, he began to climb down. He moved with care, and had descended what he thought might have been about one third of the way when a small noise stopped him. The soft sounds of little feet pattered somewhere below him, and he tilted his head. "Tithlam?" he called quietly.
The cat's tiny voice answered him, and he smiled. "Have you been waiting long for me, little one? Hold on, I'm on my way down."
He had lowered himself to the next branch when a thought struck him and he paused again, clinging to a branch and holding motionless. No, this is foolishness. He shook his head, intending to start again when the cat meowed once more. He twisted his head toward her. "Speak to me one more time, Tithlam, if you will," he said, and the cat responded.
Closing his eyes in concentration, he made his way out the edge of the branch, feeling it bend under his weight. For a moment he bounced slightly, getting used to the feel of the springiness as his worked to find his balance. Then he crouched, poised on the balls of his feet and resting his hands on his thighs. Every day I discover what a blind elf cannot do. Perhaps it is time to find out what he can do…
And with that, before he could change his mind, he jumped. Releasing the energy coiled in his legs he propelled himself straight out into the night. If he had judged well, the cat's voice had come from a distance of 32 feet. Enough for a somersault or two if I have calculated correctly.
Drawing his legs into a tight tuck he spun, and laughed as he felt his body arcing and flying, his hair whipping around him. Twisting his back, he maneuvered his arms and straightened his body, orienting to the earth. He landed in an easy crouch. His legs felt no jarring impact, as the ground was exactly where he knew it would be. Picking up his cat, he followed the scent of his dinner, walking without hesitation across the clearing to the cottage and opening the door.
There would be time enough to worry about the troubles facing him. But tonight the fire crackled in the hearth. The room was warm and smelled of good food. And a dear friend was waiting, ready to take his cloak and guide him to the table. It was enough. For this night, at least, it was enough.
"That was quite a jump, Legolas," Aragorn said, laughing, and Legolas laughed with him.
To be continued…
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